Case study

Flood and coastal risk management officer — Sam MacAllister

Sam gained the skills and experience he needed for an exciting role in flood risk management by completing a foundation degree in river and coastal engineering

How did you get your job?

After graduating with a history degree from Lancaster University, I found that I was lacking in experience for the type of jobs that I wanted to do. The solution was to study for a foundation degree in river and coastal engineering at the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol).

This two-year programme, developed in partnership with the Environment Agency, gave me an opportunity to work in flood risk, while still developing my knowledge and skills on a work placement with the Environment Agency in Lincoln. Towards the end of my placement, I was offered a permanent job as a flood and coastal risk management (FCRM) officer.

The technical skills acquired through the course really helped in my job application, and they have also proved useful in how I've been able to contribute to my team.

It can take time, planning and many discussions to develop an effective solution to flooding

Tell us about some of the projects you've been working on in your role?

My role involves managing the Environment Agency's flood defences and other assets and reducing the risk of flooding to thousands of homes and businesses in my area. Lincolnshire has over 1,700 kilometres of raised embankment, so managing safety is a really important part of my job. I have worked on a project trialling ways of testing the pressure exerted by the different types of machinery we use to maintain flood defences. The work now helps us to avoid causing damage to sections of the embankment when carrying out repairs.

Last summer, three bouts of heavy rain over Grantham led to the flooding of two properties and an industrial estate. A local brook, which was very unloved and a popular spot for dumping rubbish, ended up clogging our weed screen, causing water to back up. After reviewing the site, we worked with our partners to realign the water channel and reduce flood risk. We also worked with the local community to help clear the area of waste.

I am currently working on a project to install a fish and eel pass on a weir, which will open up a 30 kilometre stretch of river for migration. The weir no longer serves any purpose for flood risk management, so we are removing it and building a rock ramp to help fish and eels move upstream. This is a really exciting project that will make a big difference to the environment, however it is challenging as we need to ensure that the work won't increase the flood risk. I am hoping to see a real difference to local fish populations very soon.

What are the best things about working in the environment sector?

It's a really good feeling knowing that when you come to work you are making a difference to people and the environment. My work can be totally different from one week to the next and there's always something new to learn.

What are the most challenging parts?

Ensuring a positive outcome is achieved which protects property and the environment, while taking many different views into account. People often just want a quick answer about how to solve a problem, but it can take time, planning and many discussions to develop an effective solution to flooding.

What advice would you give to other students and graduates who are interested in flood risk management?

Find something you like doing and volunteer. There are lots of local groups and organisations - such as the Woodland Trust, RiverCare, the National Trust and local councils - that carry out river restoration works, often in partnership with the Environment Agency. Volunteering can take as little or as much time as you want, but it is a great way to meet people in the sort of employment you are interested in. You can talk about your volunteering in any interviews.